Here are three takeaways from the series between the Arizona Coyotes and the Nashville Predators, which the former won in four games.
The NHL restart has the Arizona Coyotes and the Nashville Predators feeling two very different ways. The sixth-seeded Predators, now three years removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final, are packing their bags while the 11th-seeded Coyotes are moving onto the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a big upset.
For Nashville, this represents the second time in as many years that the team has failed to win a playoff series. This comes in spite of the fact that the organization added Matt Duchene in the offseason and made a coaching change during the regular season.
Out in the desert, this series win ends a drought dating back to 2012. The team acquired Phil Kessel and Taylor Hall within the last year, and even though the team was disappointing in the regular season, this victory is a great stepping stone for Yotes.
As each club turns its attention to its next task, here are three takeaways from their best-of-five series.
1. Darcy Kuemper could lead the Coyotes to another upset
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Arizona does not yet know its next playoff opponent, but it will be the loser of the Vegas/Colorado round-robin game. Regardless of which matchup they draw, the Coyotes will face an uphill battle as both teams are very strong.
With that said, the Predators were strong as well. It took a team effort to upend an impressive Nashville team, but goaltender Darcy Kuemper was exceptionally good. In four games he posted a 2.77 goals against average and a .933 save percentage. He recorded 40, 36, and 49 saves in the three wins respectively and helped his team weather some heavy pressure to avoid facing early deficits.
The offensive firepower of the Preds will be matched or exceeded by either the Avalanche or the Golden Knights, and since the Coyotes rely primarily on defense, Kuemper will be squarely in the spotlight.
In the regular season, he compiled a 16-11-2 record with a 2.22 goals against average, a .928% save percentage, and two shutouts. In his postseason career, he owns a 2.36 goals against average and a .922% save percentage. All of these numbers, combined with his poise in the Qualifiers, suggest that he could steal the show in the Western Conference Quarterfinals.
2. The Coyotes offense goes as Taylor Hall goes
Everyone will look to Taylor Hall to be a key contributor for the Coyotes throughout the postseason, but his play in the Qualifying round showed just how vital he is to the offense.
He is tied for the team lead with three assists and four points, but if you look at his stats in each game, you see exactly how important he is to Arizona. In the Coyotes’ three wins, he had one goal, three assists, and a plus-2 rating. In their only loss of the series, he had no points, a minus-2 rating, and eight penalty minutes. Arizona was shoutout for most of that contest.
For the Coyotes to continue winning in the playoffs, they will need everyone to be involved, but the direct correlation between Hall’s performance against the Predators and the Coyotes’ wins in the series speaks to how much he is needed. He may not need to be on the score sheet each game, but how well he plays overall will determine how the Arizona offense performs.
3. John Hynes was the wrong move for the Predators
Three times in the last decade we have seen the Stanley Cup champions be a team that replaced its coach mid-season. The Predators hoped they could be the next team on that list when Peter Laviolette was fired and John Hynes was hired in his place.
I do not dislike John Hynes, but he was 1-4 in the postseason as a head coach coming into this year. Nashville is a team that has done about everything except for capture a Stanley Cup, which tells me that a more experienced head coach was the way to go.
Looking at other coaches that were let go this year, Gerard Gallant and Peter DeBoer strike me as two men that would have been better fits for this Preds team. Each of these coaches has taken a team to the Stanley Cup Final and could have helped the Predators get back to that point.
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Obviously, Nashville’s early exit does not fall exclusively on the shoulders of Hynes, but a different hire could have been more beneficial for the Predators. As it stands, the Predators will face some tough questions this offseason, while the Coyotes will look to build off of their qualifying win in the next round.